Workplace Laws Your Employer Might be Violating
The U.S. News and World Report reminds readers of laws you should be aware of in the workplace. No one is above the law—not even your boss.
Employee safety and health are legally protected under a variety of laws. However, there might be some you aren’t aware of. Refresh yourself on the following workplace laws that work to protect employees from Washington’s Top News article. No one should be exempt from legal accountability—even your boss.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and a variety of statutes overseen by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protect employees from hostile work environments, discrimination, and unfair labor practices.
While there are a number of workplace laws, they all fall into three general categories, according to Davida S. Perry, managing partner with Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP: human rights laws, wage and hour laws, whistleblower laws. Outline below is a breakdown of what those laws prohibit, how a hostile workplace is defined, and what you should do if an employee or co-worker is violating a law.
Workplace Laws Your Employer Might Be Violating
Not all workplace laws apply to every business or employee, although that might make things easier. For example, small businesses may be exempt from certain requirements, and state laws can vary.
Nonetheless, there are eight general ways that employers commonly break labor laws, knowingly or unknowingly:
Prohibited job application questions. The first interaction with an employer can have red flags. The EEOC enforces laws that prohibit a dozen different types of discrimination. Most of the time, employers can’t use those factors in hiring decisions or ask about them during the interview process. For example, a job application can’t inquire about age, marital status, religion, or plans to become pregnant, among other things.
Insisting you don’t share your salary with co-workers. Employers cannot legally prohibit you to compare or discuss your salary or benefits with co-workers. Under the NLRA, any attempt to squash these discussions could be seen as an illegal attempt to prevent workers from organizing or unionizing.
Failing to pay overtime. Some states have specific rules and laws regarding overtime and work hour clocking. However, in general, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay nonexempt employees overtime pay when they exceed 40 hours of work in a single workweek.
Promising jobs to unpaid interns. Companies are not permitted to entice unpaid interns with the promise of a paying job at the end of the internship. Rather than being a learning experience for a student, the internship could be viewed as an unpaid—and illegal—training period.
Asking or Allowing You to Work Off the Clock. Employees who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act can’t be asked to work off the clock. For example, employees cannot be required to do prep or clean-up work outside their paid shifts. There are also laws regarding forms of payment such as in cash or off the books, as employees could get into trouble for withholding payroll taxes should an employee file a complaint saying he or she was not properly compensated.
Classifying you as an independent contractor, but treating you like an employee. Businesses can keep costs down by hiring independent contractors instead of employees because it allows them to avoid paying benefits and some employment taxes. However, businesses may classify workers as independent contractors when they are actually employees, and this get them into hot water.
Disciplining you from discussing work on social media. Under the NLRA, employees are give a lot of freedom to talk about their employers and work life publicly, including on social media. The reason? Attempting to keep workers from doing so could be seen as an illegal attempt to prevent unionizing and organizing. However, employees are still not permitted to harass, make maliciously false statements, or speak threats of violence, as doing so would be grounds for discipline or dismissal from a job.
Allowing a hostile or threatening workplace. OSHA requires that employers ensure their workplaces are safe, and that worker complaints are handled in an appropriate manner. Some states also require that employers provide sexual harassment training to workers or supervisors. However, many organizations do not do this well if at all. Companies may directly or indirectly discourage employees from reporting problems, and many lack a clear code of conduct for their staff, according to Laurie Girand, president of I’m With Them—a nonprofit organization that works to assist victims of work-related sexual misconduct.
The EEOC defines a hostile work environment as when a person must endure offensive conduct as a condition of continued employment, and the conduct is severe and pervasive enough that a reasonable person would find it intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Under this definition, a single inappropriate comment from a co-worker likely does not meet criteria for a hostile workplace. “If he does it 10 times, it’s different,” said Girand.
However, there are times when a single incident might be severe enough to legally warrant action by an employer. For more examples, see the WTOP article.
How to Deal with an Employer Violating the Law
If you are uncomfortable with a co-worker’s behavior or believe your employer is breaking a workplace law, you need to contact your supervisor or human resources.
Should working at the problem internally not be an option, the next step is to file an administrative complaint with the appropriate agency. Complaints about discrimination should be filed with the EEOC, alleged violations of the NLRA can be filed with the National Labor Relations Board and wage issues may be addressed by state labor offices. Most of these agencies have online reporting options.
However, these methods are notorious for taking a long time to process complaints.
It’s best to know what protection you are entitled to as an employee. Make sure you are not being treated unfairly by your employer.